(Photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
"It gives them a chance to speak in front of a group and gives them self-
confidence," said Christy McDowell, committee chair for the pageants. "It's not necessarily exterior beauty, but how you talk and handle yourself in front of the judges."
Oran native Amber Seyer, who has been in several pageants and is currently Miss Missouri U.S.A., said judges look for a package when choosing winners. "The prettiest girl does not always win -- it's a person who can communicate and is approachable," she said. "It's about grace, poise, beauty and intellect."
Regardless of the size of their pageant or their age, all contestants share some attributes, Seyer said. "They are confidence and the sort of qualities they're not getting any other place -- they're stepping out of their comfort zone," she said. "The fact that they walked across that stage took a lot of courage."
Seyer got really involved in pageants as a teenager. And it was always her decision. "She always had to ask to be put in one," said her mom, Sherry Seyer.
That's how Kylyn Newton, 6, got involved. She competed in Little Miss Big Prairie last year and this year's Little Miss Rodeo said her mom, Mandy Newton. She won both.
"That's her thing, it's her personality" Newton said. "Because she asked to do it, we're letting her do it."
Kylyn's parents have realized there is a fine line between being encouraging and setting their daughter's sights too high. They encourage her to just be herself, and keep her clothing age-appropriate. She also doesn't wear any make-up.
"I want her to look like a 6-year-old, not a 16-year-old," Newton said.
However, some children do go all out. For instance, at Little Miss Cotton Carnival, which was Wednesday night, contestants could choose between Sunday best or pageant wear, McDowell said.
A lot of contestants, including children, wear make-up, too. "The mothers tell me the lighting washes out their complexion," McDowell said.
Sometimes when children are little there is resistance backstage, she continued. But by the time girls are older, they truly enjoy the pageants because it's something they choose to do.
In fact, those pageants are the ones with the least drama. "They go into it to have a good time and be with their friends," McDowell said. A lot of the girls who enter the Miss Sikeston pageant do it so they can finish in the top 12 and be featured as a calendar girl.
And it's not just girls who compete -- at least as small children. There are several pageants for boys, too.
Leslie Moore's 3 and a half year old, Ethan, has participated in about a half-
dozen, beginning when he was six months old.
"I put him in it because I knew the money they were raising for it was going toward a good cause," Moore said. "And he loves it -- he's just really outgoing. He likes being the center of attention."
Ethan also likes riding in the parades. It's getting to the point where he is too old to participate, Moore said, but if he ever doesn't want, he can quit.
"Once when he was 18 months old, we got up there and he wasn't having fun," she said. "So we just walked off the stage."
And Kylyn Newton won't be in pageants anymore once she stops having fun, her mom said.
For some, pageantry is a hobby or like a "sport," Seyer said. Contestants can benefit personally and materially. She is now a model and received a full scholarship to Lindenwood University in St. Louis.
"If a girl is doing this thing correctly, she's taking away from everything," Seyer said. "The people I have tried to influence have in turn influenced my life."